Potential at Leeds United is ‘unbelievable’

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A LEADING football finance expert has claimed that Leeds United and Wolves are the two Championship clubs with the most potential to attract major investment.

Rob Wilson, a lecturer in sports business management at Sheffield Hallam University, says the clubs represent two of English football’s last big investment opportunities – and are by far the most attractive options for purchasers looking at second-tier sides.

Wilson believes that the rebranding of the Football League – which will be renamed the English Football League from the end of this season – should make both clubs more appealing to foreign investors looking to purchase Championship clubs.

Major overseas investment in football clubs in England is burgeoning.

Only last week, a consortium of Chinese investors purchased a 13 per cent stake in Manchester City’s parent company City Football Group (CFG) for £265m, taking CFG’s value to £2bn.

Many experts are tipping further Chinese investment to occur at a number of other clubs as foreign ownership, partly from Asia, becomes even more commonplace in the English game.

The growth potential of Leeds and Wolves stands out above a host of others, according to Wilson.

The future of Leeds remains unclear with owner Massino Cellino, who retains control of around 75 per cent of Leeds through Eleonora Sport Ltd, having suggested last month that he was ready to sell the club after a turbulent reign at Elland Road.

The Italian is currently waiting to hear if his appeal against a second disqualification for breaching the Football League’s rules is successful.

In October, Cellino was banned from being an owner or director at Leeds until June, following an earlier conviction for tax evasion in Italy.

The ban will become operational for a period of 223 days if his appeal fails.

This would increase the pressure on the 59-year-old to sell his majority stake in the club – and the likelihood of him being recipient to the advances of would-be purchasers.

Wilson told The Yorkshire Post: “I have been asked the question that if you had a relatively sizeable bank balance, which football club would you invest in?

“Leeds and Wolves are the ones, no doubt about it. When you recommend potential, you are talking about those two clubs and they are the ones who stand out.

“Of all the clubs that are on the market that you look at from a purchasing point of view to throw loads of money at, you are talking about relatively small amounts with huge potential.

“Not many have the extraordinary capacity to fill a ground with 40,000 people regularly.

“The potential at Leeds is just unbelievable. When you talk about passionate fans, they have them in abundance and that’s half the battle. If you have fans that are ridiculously passionate about their team, you can squeeze money out of them if things progress.

“Get the ownership and fan engagement right and there’s investment on the field and you are normally onto a winner. These two clubs (Leeds and Wolves) just have not had the right consistencies that are needed.”

He added: “The rebranding of the Football League to the EFL (English Football League) may help clubs get investment.

“The Football League want the Championship to be seen in its own right as a seriously competitive league and it is repositioning the brand to bring in more commercial activity and sponsorship.

“It’s the sixth highest-ranking league across Europe. It is a great advert for English football and, at the end of the season, it has the world’s richest football match played. It is just trying to capitalise on all of those positives to drive as much (commercial) activity as possible.”

Cellino expressed a desire to sell Leeds early last month, but talks over a £30m sale to the supporters’ organisation Leeds Fans United (LFU) broke down with the group promptly accusing the Italian of reneging on his offer to grant them an exclusivity period to purchase the club.

The United owner went on to accuse the fans’ organisation of telling “fairytales”– with the likelihood of a sale to a fan-based group now appearing highly unlikely.

On the potential fan involvement, Wilson said: “Given the history, ground capacity and following that Leeds United have, that was almost the acid test of fan ownership at a major level.

“But now that he (Cellino) is not allowing them to take over at the moment, I just find that a real shame because that would have been a nice model.

“Leeds fans have seen every possible consequence of decisions over the past 10 or 15 years.

“Given the impact of some of the decisions, you would expect them (club) to be much more sensible. Fan ownership involvement would have given them a bit more support.”